How to Restore Headlights

How to Restore Headlights

Last Updated January 17, 2024 | Bill Tumas

Headlights tend to become yellow and foggy as cars age. This is a common issue that's almost inevitable when dealing with older vehicles. Fogged-up headlights can cause visibility issues and make the overall driving experience worse at night. There are a few different ways to fix this problem, each with its own probability of success. In this article, we're going to talk about how to restore your headlights.

Option 1: Replace Your Headlights

This one is the most effective on this list. There are no guarantees that the methods we'll discuss later will work, but replacing your headlights guarantees you'll have like-new performance. The only problem with this option is the cost. If you're working on an older car, like a Classic Mustang, factory replacement headlights will be hard to find, expensive, or both. Fully replacing your headlights is not the best option if you're working on a tight budget. Check out our guide on how to install LED headlights on a Classic Mustang if you're interested in the process.

If you don't mind the look, aftermarket headlights are a great option and fix some of the problems I mentioned with factory replacements. They're widely available and can provide more light than factory headlights. They're also much cheaper and won't break the bank.

There are a few different ways to restore your lights if you're shying away from replacements.

Option 2: Restore Headlights with Sandpaper

Before doing anything, it's important to check your headlight and determine if it's savable. Run your hand over the surface of the headlight to check for any bits peeling or flaking off. This determines whether the headlight is delaminated. If it's delaminated, this method won't work. If it's fairly smooth and without any big flakes, you're good to go.

For more information and a step-by-step guide to this method, check out this video.

Parts and Tools Needed:

Materials Needed:

  • 3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit
  • Drill
  • Water Spray Bottle
  • Clean Microfiber Towel

Step 1: Clean the Headlight

Clean the headlight thoroughly to remove any dirt and debris that could hurt the restoration process.

Mechanic cleaning a headlight before sanding

Step 2: Cover-Up Surrounding Area

Cover up the surrounding trim and paint to avoid damage during the process.

Step 3: Sand the Headlight

Using the included 500, 800, and 3,000-grit sandpaper, attach the sandpaper to your drill and sand the surface of the headlight down starting from 500 and working your way to 3,000. Take your time during this process. The headlight might need to be sanded multiple times to achieve the desired result.

Mechanic sanding a headlight

The 3,000-grit sandpaper will require water to work properly, so make sure to spray some water on the surface of the headlight before sanding.

Step 4: Clean the Headlight

Clean the headlight thoroughly to remove any remnants from the sanding process.

Mechanic cleaning the headlight after it has been sanded

Step 5: Polish the Headlight

Attach the orange pad supplied in the kit to your drill.

Then, apply a dime-sized amount of polish to the pad and dab it onto the headlight.

Finally, polish the headlight.

Mechanic polishing the headlight

And now you're done! While the process isn't perfect, it will usually significantly improve the yellow, cloudy look of old headlights.

Option 3: Use a Headlight Restoration Chemical

The 3M kit isn't the only way to refinish headlights. We're going to talk about the KBS Coatings Headlight Restore Kit. This kit is a two-part cleaner that cleans and shines the surface. Be sure to use the provided gloves to protect yourself from the chemicals.

The cleaner needs to be diluted with water in order to work properly. Mix 10-parts hot water to one part cleaner to get the proper ratio.

Mechanic diluting cleaner in hot water

Materials Needed:

  • KBS Coatings Headlight Restore Kit
  • Small Bucket
  • Clean Microfiber Cloth

Step 1: Cover Up the Surrounding Area

Cover up the surrounding trim and paint to avoid damage from the potentially harmful chemicals.

Step 2: Clean the Headlight

Dip the provided scuff pad into the cleaning mixture and clean the headlight thoroughly.

Mechanic cleaning the headlight using the diluted cleaner

Step 3: Dry the Headlight

Use a clean microfiber cloth and wipe down the headlight.

Mechanic drying the headlight with a microfiber cloth

Step 4: Mix the DiamondFinish Solution

Stir, don't shake, the DiamondFinish solution with the provided stir stick for around 30 seconds.

Mechanic mixing the DiamondFinish solution with a stir stick

Step 5: Apply the DiamondFinish Solution

Apply the DiamondFinish solution using the supplied brushes. Be sure to give the headlight a fairly liberal coating of the solution, ensuring there are no excess drippings.

Mechanic applying the DiamondFinish solution with a foam brush

Step 6: Let the DiamondFinish Solution Dry

After applying the solution let it sit for around 90 minutes, or until it's dry to the touch.

Now you're done!

Quick and Easy

Restoring your headlights is a simple job that can be done in a few minutes. While the results vary greatly, it can save you a ton of money and help you keep your car as OEM as possible. Check out our interior and exterior detailing guides if you're interested in detailing the rest of your car.

If you're unsatisfied with your headlights after you've tried to restore them, it might be time to upgrade to LEDs or HIDs. Check out our guide on the differences between HID, LED, and Halogen bulbs and which is right for you.

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.